skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

From J. D. Hooker   6 April 1864


April 6/64

Dr old Darwin

The enclosed is pretty much what was to be expected, & though Balfour would be vehemently prejudiced in regard to a point of character directly bearing on Darwinism & Scott’s researches, he is too honest & kind-hearted a man to allow his feelings to run away with him in answering such questions as I put regarding Scott—1 It is very awkward, for one really sees no avenue for the poor fellow   he clearly cannot be suited to a Colonial appointment: as a gardener, in short, he never can get on—where subordination & supervision are equally essential. He has in fact mistaken his calling.

I send a note from the Chief Baron in the ghost of a chance of the last paragraph being useful.2

F. Wedgwood has most kindly asked me & my wife to stay a night with him & look over his molds of portraits &c.—which we hope to do when the weather is a little better— he has also promised to come to Kew & see us, as has he for Godfrey when he comes to Town.3

Herbert Spencer I suppose wrote the Review of Schleiden in N. H. Rev.;4 it is very interesting, & I have a pamphlet from him somewhat apropos of the subject “on the classification of the Sciences”— have you it?—5

I shall read the “Heat” article in Reader.—6

I shall see to Nepenthes.7

Ever yrs aff | J D Hooker

P.S. I have mislaid the Chief Barons note—8 he recommends a few grains of Epsom salts on the tongue to allay sickness9—& says he has often tried it with himself & family— he is a wonderfully sagacious old fellow 80 years old & as active & full of interest in science & you as a young man. In every letter he asks how you are.


Royal Botanic Garden | Edinburgh 5 April 1864 Dear Hooker

John Scott concerning whom you make enquiry, was for a considerable time in the Botanic Garden. He was sober and industrious, & most zealous in the prosecution of Botany. He took a particular interest in the subject of Embryology & he made many experiments in regard to the development of the Embryo in Lycopods, & the fertilisation of orchids.10 He became latterly so absorbed in his researches that Mr McNab complained of him neglecting his work in the garden.11 On that account he left us. His manner is not good & he was not a favorite with the men. From all I heard, he appeared to have a bad temper & to be rather sullen. I offered him a situation in a Cinchona plantation in India but he declined to accept it.12

I should doubt his capability of acting as a superintendent of others,—chiefly on account of his disposition & temper. At the same time he is a most deserving man & ought to be encouraged. He would do well in a situation where he was allowed to carry on his observations on plants in the way he chose & without control. He is a very careful & accurate observer. I believe that he is a good propagator also. He is not very robust but he enjoyed good health when he was in the garden.

I shall be glad if he can get appointment which will suit him, & which will enable him to prosecute botanical science, in which he has already shown great capabilities.

Sir | yours sincerely | J. H. Balfour

CD annotations

Top of letter: ‘Leersia’ pencil 13


Hooker enclosed a letter to him from John Hutton Balfour of 5 April 1864 (see enclosure); this letter was a reply to Hooker’s query regarding John Scott’s suitability for a foreign appointment (see letter from J. D. Hooker, [4 April 1864]). In his letter to Hooker of 5 April [1864], CD had expressed the fear that Balfour might be prejudiced against Scott because of Scott’s support of CD’s transmutation theory.
Hooker misplaced the note from Jonathan Frederick Pollock, the Chief Baron, or president of the judges in the Court of the Exchequer, and did not enclose it after all (see n. 9, below); the letter is in the Library and Archives, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (English letters 1856–1900, vol. 98: 371).
Hooker refers to Francis Wedgwood, who was a senior partner in the Wedgwood pottery firm, and to Godfrey Wedgwood, who was also employed in the company; both lived in Staffordshire (Freeman 1978). Hooker was a collector of Wedgwood ware (see letter from J. D. Hooker, 29 March 1864 and n. 36).
Hooker refers to a review of two essays recently published by Matthias Jacob Schleiden (Schleiden 1863a and 1863b). The titles of the essays were translated in the Natural History Review 4: 187–8 as ‘On the materialistic tendencies of natural science in Germany at the present time; their cause and history.— A work intended for the educated’ (Schleiden 1863a), and ‘The Antiquity of Man, the Origin of Species, and Man’s Place in Nature. Three discourses for the educated general public’ (Schleiden 1863b). The anonymous author of the review was George Rolleston ([Rolleston] 1864; see letter from J. D. Hooker, 8 April 1864). In [Rolleston] 1864, pp. 196–7, the support of Schleiden and other Germans for CD’s theory was discussed. CD’s unbound copy of the April 1864 issue of Natural History Review is in the Darwin Library–CUL; [Rolleston] 1864 is not annotated.
Hooker refers to Spencer 1864a. A copy, inscribed by the author, is in the Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL. For discussions of Herbert Spencer’s work earlier in 1864, see the letter from A. R. Wallace, 2 January 1864 and nn. 23 and 24, the letter to J. D. Hooker, [10 and 12 January 1864], and the letter from J. D. Hooker, 24 January 1864 and nn. 5–8.
See n. 2, above.
Epsom salts are a hydrated magnesium sulphate, a strong purgative (Butterworths medical dictionary). CD was taking carbonate of magnesia (letter from William Jenner, 15 October 1864), used for its antacid and laxative properties (see Royle and Headland 1865, pp. 130–1); for a description of the effect of magnesium compounds on the stomach and intestines, see Ringer 1869, pp. 112–14. Carbonate of magnesia had evidently been prescribed by William Jenner, along with other antacids and purgatives, when he first visited CD on 20 March 1864 (see letter from William Jenner to Emma Darwin, [17 March 1864], and letter to J. D. Hooker, 13 April [1864] and n. 6).
Scott published his work on lycopods, or club-mosses, in Scott 1864c (see letter from John Scott, 12 [February 1864] and nn. 10 and 11); he published his work on orchids in Scott 1863a and Scott 1864b. He had first discussed his work on orchid pollination with CD in 1862 (see Correspondence vol. 10, letter from John Scott, 11 November 1862), and most recently in his letter of 28 March 1864.
See letter from John Scott, 28 March 1864 and n. 19. James McNab was Scott’s immediate supervisor at the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh.
CD asked Hooker about cultivating the grass Leersia in his letter of 13 April [1864].


Butterworths medical dictionary. 2d edition. Edited by Macdonald Critchley et al. London and Boston, Mass.: Butterworths. 1978.

Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 27 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

Freeman, Richard Broke. 1978. Charles Darwin: a companion. Folkestone, Kent: William Dawson & Sons. Hamden, Conn.: Archon Books, Shoe String Press.

Ringer, Sydney. 1869. A handbook of therapeutics. London: H. K. Lewis.

[Rolleston, George.] 1864. Schleiden’s essays. [Review of Schleiden 1863a and 1863b.] Natural History Review n.s. 4: 187–99.


J. H. Balfour gives Scott excellent character reference, but says he is unfit either to superintend or be subordinate.

Herbert Spencer’s review of J. M. Schleiden is interesting [see 4457].

Letter details

Letter no.
Joseph Dalton Hooker
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 101: 204–5; Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (Directors’ Correspondence English letters Balfour 1866–1900 vol. 78: 311)
Physical description
4pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4452,” accessed on 29 November 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 12